Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 3)

As we’ve seen, so much about Jesus appears to have been invented and made up; literally, ‘envisioned’. Almost everything he said and did, including his death and resurrection, derive from Paul’s teaching and the Old Testament. Mark created his gospel narrative out of these, embellishing the story with ideas from other, pagan myths. Mark’s gospel then served as the basis of the other three canonical gospels.

It could be argue that none of this suggests Jesus didn’t exist. He could still have been a real life human being who wandered around Palestine, teaching people about the End of the Age. In which case, why did Paul and the later gospel writers have to make so much up about him, as clearly they did. Why didn’t they report directly what he taught, instead of quoting the Old Testament as Paul does when he talks about his Christ (he all but says this what he does in Romans 15.2-4)? Not once does he refer to anything the historical Jesus said. Neither do the gospel writers. They make stuff up, they alter what their predecessors say, they dip into the Old Testament to construct Jesus’ teaching.

Why? If the real Jesus was such a Great Teacher, who had so much wisdom to impart, don’t we find it in the gospels instead of this amalgam of other sources? Was his teaching so unimpressive and unmemorable that a new script had to be written for him? If so, how did he attract the fame and following he purportedly did? Why are the gospels literary creations and not the kind of reporting we might expect if they were relating the sayings and doings of one man?? Why do the gospels have their own distinct agendas when they are supposedly reporting the views of a real individual? Why are there so many interpretations of Jesus in the New Testament: Jewish Jesus, Gentile Jesus, Anti-semitic Jesus, Gnostic Jesus, Anti-gnostic Jesus, Radical Jesus, Pacifist Jesus, Saviour Jesus, High Priest Jesus, Cosmic-judge Jesus? Why, if it really happened, does the resurrection read like myth, with all the differences in detail between the accounts? Why does Paul talk about it as something that was only revealed in ‘visions’? Why does Mark hint that his Jesus story is a parable, the true meaning of which can only be discerned by the spiritually mature (Mark 4.10-12)?

If Jesus was real, none of this – the myth making, the invention, the reliance on the Old Testament – would be necessary.

That Paul and the gospel writers made up so much suggests there wasn’t a real person on whom their teaching and stories are based. Jesus Christ was the result of the ‘visions’, dreams and hallucinations that someone called Cephas and a few others, Paul included, experienced.

There was no historical Jesus, no miracles, no wondrous teaching, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension. There will be no second coming, no final judgement, no Kingdom of Heaven presided over by someone who originally lived 2000 years ago. Why? Because every bit of it is make believe.

Body Talk

So you’re not getting a new body when you die. Sorry about that. It all comes down then to what you’re going to do with the one you’ve already got. I don’t know what condition it’s in. Your genes and the wear and tear it’s undergone in life will determine that. My own isn’t too bad for its age, I guess, though it suffers from inexplicable aches and pains these days (fibromyalgia) which is probably only going to get worse as I get older. All the same, that’s better than the alternative, so I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life.

And that’s what I’d recommend to you too. Enjoy life, enjoy your body. Indulge it in its appetites. The Christians who tell you you’re wrong to do so, who quote verses like Romans 8.13 at you are missing the point:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Denying yourself will not take you to Heaven, won’t make you a better person and won’t make Jesus like you any more than he does already (which is not at all, on account of his non-existence.) Of course, it’s sometimes a good thing to delay gratification, if others might be adversely affected, for example, but usually it’s not. Most of the time it’s okay to do with your body what you want to do with it – it’s yours for that reason. So enjoy training it, exercising it, eating well and wisely, grooming and pampering your body, keeping it as fit and clean as you possibly can. Enjoy being creative and caring. Be sensual (as in enjoying its sensations) and have all the sex you want, however you want it – with protection, specially if you don’t intend creating more little bodies – and with whichever consenting partners you want. Your body has evolved to be like this. You have evolved to be like this. Anything else is an aberration.

Why am I saying this? Because having reached 65, I’m very aware of the physical limitations that make themselves known as one gets older. Your body, my body, everybody’s body will eventually and irrevocably let each and everyone of us down. You will have experienced some debilitation already, whatever age you are; temporary illness, ailments of one sort or another, injuries, viruses, infections and malfunctions. Your body will eventually undergo the ultimate malfunction and let you down completely. It will die. Don’t leave it until that time approaches – and which of us knows when that is? – to appreciate it. Enjoy it now, whatever stage of life you have reached and whatever shape your body is in.

Am I preaching hedonism? Not exactly. But I am recommending you take pleasure from whatever activities you use your body for, no matter how mundane they are. And let’s face it, all human activities, including the cerebral, involve the body one way or another. Be a sensualist, as in enjoying the body’s sensations, and find pleasure in all things. Give pleasure in return and in many varied ways to others.

Isn’t this more life-enhancing than all that unhealthy ‘death to the flesh’ stuff (Romans 8.13) at the heart of Christianity, which regards the body as corrupt (Romans 7.24), sinful (Romans 7.5), lowly (Philippians 3.21), weak and dishonourable (1 Corinthians 15.43) and unworthy of a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50)? It surely is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.32 that if the dead are not raised in new spiritual bodies then we may as well live our lives according the maxim, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. There is no resurrection, there are no bodies other than the ones we have now, so perhaps, for once, Paul was on to something.

What Jesus didn’t know

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Creating the picture for the previous post reminded me of how little Jesus, assuming he actually existed, knew of the consequences of his ‘ministry’. Here’s a few of the things he either didn’t do or had no knowledge of while he lived.

  • Jesus never read a single word of the New Testament. The earliest of its books, I Thessalonians, was written about twenty years after he died. The New Testament did not appear in its entirety until the end of the 4th century.
  • He never read any of the accounts of his life, the first of which didn’t appear until about forty years after his death.
  • He had no control at all over what went in any of the gospels.
  • He did not endorse them in any way, nor verify their accuracy.
  • He never met Paul nor was he aware of the fantastical claims Paul would make about him.
  • He had no idea he would come to be regarded as God.
  • He did not know that soon after his death, people would worship him as God.
  • He would not have anticipated that his teaching would be adapted for a Gentile audience. It is unlikely he would have approved if he had.
  • He had no idea a new religion would be created in his name.
  • He did not know anything about, nor did he anticipate, the Church. His apparent acknowledgement of it is a fabrication.
  • He did not know the damage those who followed him would do in his name.
  • He did not know that the Kingdom of God would never arrive on Earth, nor that the Romans would continue to dominate it for a further 400 years.
  • He did not know the world would continue pretty much as it was for another 2000 years.
  • He did not know of the scientific discoveries that would be made in those years that would invalidate his beliefs and worldview.
  • He did not know that, forty years after his ‘ministry’, the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed by the Romans. His ‘prophecy’ of it is a fabrication written after the event.
  • He did not know of the world beyond the Roman Empire, if he was aware even of that. He certainly did not know of the American continent.
  • He had no knowledge of the United States, founded more than 1,700 after he died.
  • He had no concept of most, if not all, of the concerns of today’s evangelicals: religious liberty, right-wing politics, guns, abortion, ‘the homosexual agenda’.
  • He had no idea what his legacy would be: the arrested development of millions and of western society itself; pogroms, persecutions and inquisitions; a corrupt and abusive church; the psychological damage caused to innumerable people; his name hi-jacked for political causes he had never heard of and almost certainly would not have approved of.

None of this is what he saw for himself. He thought he would be ruling the world with his besties on behalf of Yahweh. Like every other mortal, he had no idea of anything that would happen after his lifetime. What does this tell us about him?

The God Who Never Was

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I’m considering reasons why God is unlikely to exist. The sixth, though by no means final reason is (drumroll): Christians.

If God existed and if he did the things the Bible, and Jesus in particular, claimed for him, then Christians would be very different creatures. They wouldn’t be beligerent and self-righteous, desperately trying to draw others into their cult, callously condemning everyone outside it while claiming they themselves are the persecuted (a caricature, I concede, but not without truth).

Instead, and according to Jesus and Paul, they would be brand new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17), infused with supernatural power: the Spirit of God no less (John 14.26; Romans 8.7-9). They would, moreover, have abandoned their families (Luke 14.26) and sold all they own to give to the poor (Matthew 19.21), relying solely on God for their needs (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22). They’d spend all their time as his slaves (Matthew 25.21; Romans 6.22), helping the sick, the destitute and the imprisoned (Matthew 25.35-40) and in return God would have endowed them with the ability to heal all disease (Mark 16:15), raise the dead (Matthew 10.7-8) and do miracles even greater than Jesus’ own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12).

If Christians were like this, as Jesus and Paul promised, the world would be a much more remarkable and better place. What does it tell us that it isn’t? When Christians don’t constantly demonstrate compassion and miraculous powers but instead spend their time demeaning gay people, ranting about abortion and proselytising (the latter a redundant activity when, if they were the new creatures the Bible promises they’d be, we would all see God in and through their actions and superpowers.) That Christians are not like this tells us Jesus got it entirely wrong; that his God had no interest in him and has none in us; that faith in God, as Jesus and his early followers envisaged it, does not deliver.

Christians actually know this, which is why they ignore what the Bible says they should be like, or explain it away with convoluted exegesis. They’re focused on their own ‘spiritual growth’, ‘worship’ and on how they’ll be going to heaven when they die – an offer the Bible never makes. Whichever avoidance strategy they resort to, the Bible says what it says: that God will enable his followers to do great miracles, like healing the sick and raising the dead; ‘all things’, in fact, though Christ who strengthens them (Philippians 4.1). The evidence demonstrates conclusively, despite the disingenuous claims of some loopier evangelicals, that God does nothing of the sort. He fails, yet again, to come through. The only reasonable conclusion is that this is because he’s not real.

So those are six major reasons why it is highly unlikely God exists. There are others, some of which I’ve touched on in other posts: how, despite Jesus’ promises he will, God looks after his devotees no better than caged sparrows (Matthew 10.28-31); how there’s no evidence the supernatural exists; how the spiritual realm and the gods that go with it are products of the human imagination. Collectively – and even separately – these convince me there’s no God, and certainly not that sorry excuse for one, Yahweh.

Can you be a Christian and… a Woman?

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…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works… Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet… she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 13-15).

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3.18).

(Women should) be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5).

So according to the cult handbook, women must be –

submissive, quiet, silent, submissive, under a man’s authority, modest and… submissive. They should work at home, do nothing that might embarrass their husbands and have no authority over any men.

If a woman wants to be a Christian this is the behaviour she must assume. Above all, she must be submissive to the men God has placed above her, from her husband to… well, every other male.

What self-respecting woman is going to submit herself to this?

But wait, I can already hear liberal, enlightened Christian women approaching, all set to tell me that these New Testament admonitions are no longer relevant because they’re ‘culture bound’. They were devised, by men, in a first century milieu and therefore they don’t apply today! Which is odd, given they were applicable for almost all of the previous two thousand years, well beyond the time and context in which they were written. Not until the twentieth century, when the church’s power began to wane and women began to demand equal treatment with men, was the Bible’s misogyny questioned. Less than a hundred years have passed since women’s rights were reluctantly acknowledged by western society, even less since parts of the church caught up.

Many evangelical churches today still subscribe to the ‘commands’ of Paul and the imposters that followed in his wake. They expect their women to be silent, modest, under men’s authority and submissive. Witness the number of Christian blogs that traduce women, many written by women who regard themselves as ‘godly’ wives. Look at the frequent attacks by fellow evangelicals on female preachers like Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, who ‘presume’ to teach men. (I can’t stand either of them personally, but not because they’re women.)

Liberal churches, however, know better. They safely consign the New Testament views of women to history; curios that provide an insight into how first century cultists thought, none of which are binding on today’s women. The world has moved on. Indeed it has; western culture has changed its views on women and their rights and roles, with little help from the church. While this is a very good thing, aren’t Christians told not to conform to ‘the world’? They are (Romans 12.2). Clearly this is yet more biblical teaching that can be ignored when it suits.

So, can you be a woman and a Christian? Evidently so, though it involves either compromising yourself as a woman to comply with the Bible’s warped ideas of what you should be and how you should behave – or compromising the Bible’s directives in order to respect and be yourself. But is compromise really what Christianity is about? Paul and his fellow fanatics didn’t seem to think so.

Can you be a Christian and… gay?

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No. You can’t. The church regards your gayness, your same-sex attraction, as sinful. If you act on your feelings you are, according to the bible, an abomination. You cannot enter the Kingdom of God if you have sex with someone who’s the same sex as yourself, not even if that’s within a committed, loving relationship:

…do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men (1 Corinthians 6:9)

Paul doesn’t mince his words in Romans 1:25-28 either:

…God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error… God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…

There’s no getting away from this: the bible is emphatic and unequivocal about how it views homosexuality and those who ‘practise’ it. There’s no ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ here. Gay people are unnatural, degraded, indecent, dishonourable, wicked, unrighteous, sinful and more: this, Paul is clear, is how God sees it too.

Some people, however, want to be both; they’re gay and they also consider themselves to be Christians. They’ve answered the altar call/been born again/baptised into the family of God and have made a commitment to Jesus/God/the church in whatever way their particular ‘fellowship’ teaches they should. Now they’re faced with what to do about their sexuality, when the bible, and in all probability their church too, finds it abhorrent. What to do?

Not all Christians are alike, of course, and not all churches the same. Some, a scattered few, are gay affirming. They say it’s okay for you and your partner to be gay, they still welcome you and see your homosexuality as a cause for celebration: you can, they say, be gay and Christian. To do this, however, they have to find ways around what the bible says about homosexuality. So they argue that the condemnation of the Old Testament is no longer applicable and doesn’t, in any case, refer to committed same-sex relationships. They make the case that Paul is really only referring to temple prostitution and promiscuity, not to loving couples.

If they’re honest, they acknowledge that these are pretty weak arguments and resort instead to ignoring everything the bible says about homosexuality (which is actually very little) and find comfort in the fact Jesus himself doesn’t appear to have mentioned it.

There are several problems with this way of thinking:

  • If you’re going to ignore these parts of the bible, what else can safely be ignored? It’s a slippery slope, brethren, a slippery slope;
  • Dismissing the bible’s grave warnings about same-sex sex, doesn’t mean that they’re not still there;
  • you’re engaging in a form of collective cognitive dissonance in pretending they’ve somehow disappeared or are no longer applicable;
  • You’re out of step with most other branches of Christianity, nearly all of which noisily disapprove of homosexual sex, relationships and even “marriage” (note obligatory scare quotes.)

In any case, gay-affirming churches are few and far between. The chances of living close to one are remote. Chances are, you’re stuck with a common-or-garden church. Chances are it disapproves of you. Chances are it will want you to renounce your sexuality. But there’s good news! If you’ve been saved/washed in the blood of the lamb/baptised, it’s easy. Your sins are forgiven and you are a new creature: God/Christ/the Holy Spirit will free you from the shackles of same-sex attraction. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11:

And such were some of you (idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, that is). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

So that’s it then. You can’t be a Christian and gay. The gay has to go.

That’s the Christian perspective anyway. I hope I’ve represented it fairly enough. I can’t help but feel there’s more to it than that, however. We’ll consider whether there is next time.

Some Pig: Why God’s laws are not written on our hearts

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According to Christians, everyone of us knows the right way to behave because God has written his laws in our ‘hearts’. We don’t always bother to consult what he’s written there, however, because we prefer to do our own thing, which is when our consciences start to bother us about our wicked ways. Here’s how Paul put in Romans 2.15:

Gentiles show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

There’s no evidence that this is how it works, of course; Paul never cared much for evidence nor even for making sense. We know that, provided we are not born with psychopathic tendencies, we learn values, morals and how to relate to others from care-givers in our early lives. They teach us to share (or not) and how we should treat other people, and while it’s true we do seem to be born with a sense of empathy – watch a young child respond to the distress of another – this needs to be cultivated and nurtured. A knowledge of the 613, frequently absurd stipulations of the Old Covenant (which is what Paul is referring to) is demonstrably not genetic; we do not have an innate or instinctive understanding of God’s requirements. Psychologists point to the fact that it is only when she is three that a child learns that stealing is wrong; she is not born knowing it.

All of which is a far cry from ‘God’s law being written in (our) hearts’. Even if Paul meant we have a sort of general, non-specific understanding of how we ought to behave – though this is not what he actually says – there is no evidence this has been planted in us by a supernatural being. Certainly not one that thinks slavery is okay and whose prohibition against killing doesn’t extend to tribes beyond one’s own.

The Christian approach to morality puts me in mind of Charlotte’s Web. In that great children’s book, Charlotte the spider adds messages to the webs she spins to help save her friend, Wilbur the pig, from slaughter. When the gullible humans in the story see ‘Some Pig’, ‘Radiant’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Humble’ written in the webs, they inexplicably give the credit, not to Charlotte, but to Wilbur. No-one, either in the book itself nor in reviews, comments on the fact that it is not Wilbur who has these qualities, despite what the messages say, but the creature who made them (an anomaly I’m sure E. B. White was aware of when he wrote the book.)

If I might interpret Charlotte’s Web allegorically, we humans are Charlotte, while Wilbur, on whom everyone seems focused, is God. It is we who have developed moral codes throughout our existence, the latest versions of which our children learn from us, and attempt to follow (or not). Meanwhile, the likes of Paul and contemporary Christians refuse to give us one iota of credit. Instead, they insist, the credit goes to their god; a being nowhere near as pleasant as Wilbur, though he’s every bit as fictional – another of our creations, just like those moral codes we invented.

 

Making Excuses for Jesus

Excuse 2. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘the church’.

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So if not the transfiguration, then what? Christians can’t accept that Jesus was wrong in all he prophesied, and must invent some other explanation. How about the church – the body of believers who saw, and still see, Jesus as their saviour? The church must be the Kingdom! Yes, that’s it surely.

But then they’re left to explain why the church, even in its early days, bore no resemblance to what Jesus said the Kingdom would look like. Where was the Son of Man descending through the clouds? The hosts of angels in full view of ‘the tribes of the Earth’? The disciples judging and ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19.28)? The last becoming first and the first last? The meek inheriting the Earth? The righteous being rewarded for their good deeds, while the unrighteous are sent to outer darkness?

Even if we were to overlook the absence of these characteristics, all of which Jesus predicted would define the Kingdom, then isn’t the-church-as-Kingdom just a tiny bit, well… disappointing? It doesn’t embody either any of the conditions of the Kingdom that the Old Testament prophets promised it would (Micah 4.1-7 & Isaiah 11.6): nations continue to wage war, the lamb and the wolf don’t co-exist peacefully and God singularly fails to rule the earth from Mount Zion.

Instead, the church is all too human, riven with conflict and division. Despite the whitewash given to it by the author of Acts, Paul’s letters – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Galatians in particular – serve as a permanent reminder of the dispute and strife that have characterised it since its earliest days. It has also a shameful history of persecuting those with whom it disagrees and produces its fair share of criminals and abusers. Today, it is split into 45,000 different factions and, according to some of its own, is awash with ‘false doctrine’.

One thing it is good at – the very thing Paul insists it shouldn’t be (1 Corinthians 5.12) – is judging the rest of us.

The Kingdom of God it is not.